Monday, 18 January 2010

The Escapist's Five Reasons Why The Old Republic Can't Touch WoW

After last week's Five Reasons Why The Old Republic Is a Threat to WoW The Escapist magazine has come with a follow-up article looking at it from the other side: Five Reasons Why The Old Republic Can’t Touch WoW

And like last week I'll briefly go through their points with my own comments. You can read their entire reasoning on their website; I'll just quote a brief section of each.
#1 - The Black Hole Effect: Everybody knows what a black hole is, right? It's when an object reaches a certain critical mass threshold for its given density and collapses into a singularity from which nothing can escape, not even light - and from there, everything it collects only adds to that mass. MMOGs are like that, too. Because they are extremely social games, you play what your friends are playing. Once a game has gained enough subscribers to reach critical mass, people are likely to play it simply because all of their friends are playing it.
It's hard to argue with this point. This is usually the reason that people say that it's folly to try and "beat WoW". After all, people who are happy playing WoW aren't that likely to stop playing WoW if all their friends are still playing WoW (or in a more general sense, if WoW still offers them what they want). And people who don't play WoW aren't likely to play a game that's trying to lure people from it by being a lot like it.

As such I believe that for SWTOR to be a huge success it needs to focus on people not interested in playing WoW. When it starts gaining a certain critical mass then it might start pulling people away from WoW, but you're not going to get that critical mass out of players who are already entirely sucked into another game.
#2 - Time Is Money, Friend!: Or, to be precise, time and money. The Old Republic may have EA's deep pockets backing it, but do you know who has even bigger pockets? EA's rival Activision, of course, which is in possession of the money-raking Guitar Hero and Call of Duty franchises. Oh, and we can't forget the money from WoW itself. If studio heads had the desire, Blizzard could throw more money at the development of a game than most companies could ever dream of.
I'm not sure I agree with this point as much. At least as far as money goes at some point putting more money into a product is going to be counter-productive. If it takes one person one hundred years to do a job then one might say that it takes one hundred people one year, but that isn't true. Because the more people you have the more overhead in organization you get and at some point you reach a stage where adding more people is only going to negatively impact development. Similarly having too much advertising I think desensitizes people to the product (if you see "WoW" adverts everywhere, are you likely to pay attention to any of it or does it just become wallpaper). As such I'm not convinced that ActiBlizz can really pump more money into WoW to try and offset any 'threat' SWTOR might pose.

Time is a different matter of course. Blizzard can just continue to do what it's doing without much pressure, but BioWare has to really achieve to reach their deadlines and prove themselves; there is a lot riding on them and if they don't pull through... best not to think of that.
#3 - Cataclysm: The Burning Crusade didn't offer much content for low-level players or beginners - two new races with two new starting zones, but otherwise everything else was standard issue - and Wrath of the Lich King offered even less. The third expansion, Cataclysm, on the other hand, is revamping the entire world of Azeroth from the ground up.
I'm not entirely convinced that Cataclysm will truly have that much of an impact on SWTOR. By the time SWTOR releases Cataclysm is likely to be old news; in gaming things tend to fade quickly. It might help boost WoW's numbers a bit when the expansion is released, but does it really make that much of a difference to SWTOR whether WoW has 11 million or 13 million subscribers (just to name a few numbers)?

In fact, one could argue that people fickle enough to jump on board because of an expansion are just as likely to jump ship when the next thing (i.e. SWTOR) comes around and as such Cataclysm might even help SWTOR.
#4 - System Requirements: WoW's graphics are dated, but the game is still one of the best examples in the industry of how stylized art direction and world-building can compensate for low-end technical specs. A game that limits itself to people with the raw power to run it is unnecessarily cutting off its audience, and The Old Republic will need to consider the bottom-end PCs if it wants to come close to duplicating the success of WoW (and lacking the cartoonish Warcraft style makes it more difficult to do that).
System requirements are important, yes. They need to be low enough that just about everyone can play them, yet still allow those with better systems to pull out a graphical glamor. However it seems as if SWTOR is indeed aiming for that. They might not quite get as low as WoW, but conversely WoW is starting to look quite dated.

Even so this is a hard issue for me to judge; not in the least because I detest SWTOR's character design and can't stand WoW's graphical design either. WoW's graphics were a major reason for me not play it, and I fear that trying to reach this goal of low requirements will do the same for SWTOR (making concessions they don't need to in a bid for lower specs; graphical style doesn't have to suffer for low specs the way SWTOR's character models have).
#5 - The Impossible Bar: Back in September, I spoke with Cryptic's Bill Roper about the launch of Champions Online. He admitted that there was a very high bar set for entry into the MMOG market, because new games are invariably compared to titles that have been on the market for years, fair or not. He pointed to the concept of "phasing" zones introduced in Wrath of the Lich King - four years after the release of WoW - and said that he'd heard criticism of his own Champions for not including the feature, even though one game had been out for five years and the other less than a month.
This is a fair point and probably SWTOR's biggest obstacle. They'll have to do everything they can to put as much content into SWTOR as they possibly can, and even then they're likely to fall short. And they haven't made it easy for themselves by making it fully voiced; if nothing else it'll make it very hard to add new content so that not only will they be running catching with WoW, they'll also be running much slower. People need to feel that they can be in the game forever and still not have seen everything and WoW has had many years to build that up.

Of course, the flipside of this is that they can learn from some of WoW's mistakes and do things right from the start. WoW is still, I'm sure, suffering with its legacy of being five years old. But the trick is recognizing what those are and not repeating them.

Either way though, I must admit that I haven't played WoW (beyond a month many years ago) despite some family members continuing to try and cajole me into playing it with them. My personal view on the matter would be that SWTOR needs to forget about comparing itself to WoW in any way, shape or form. Sure, things can be learned from it as from any other game (MMO or not). But SWTOR needs to establish itself on its own terms and not on WoW's terms, regardless of whether it will be bigger, a smaller success, or a failure.

[link] to article at The Escapist.

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